Swaddling has become a common practice to prevent a baby’s startle reflex, soothe them and get them to sleep for longer periods. Why’s that?
A swaddled baby is like a baby burrito where their arms are kept tight to their body, and the snugness makes them feel secure and safe. The reason behind this sensation is that it’s understood that it reminds them of how they felt inside their mother’s womb.
Most parents rely on swaddling their babies for nap time and nighttime sleep. However, many often wonder, ‘when to transition out of a swaddle’. There definitely comes a time when the baby begins to move more, and swaddles become a risk factor. That’s when parents need to transition to other swaddle alternatives.
Thankfully, there are options outside of a traditional swaddle blanket that achieve the same results while minimizing risk. Also, there are methods to consider to make the transition easy.
Let’s explore them and learn some transition tips.
When to transition out of a swaddle and stop swaddling
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that swaddling your baby should stop at around two months. Since every child’s development is different is best to check if the baby starts showing signs that they’re ready to transition or if you can wait a little longer.
Those signs include:
- Rolling over by themselves. As soon as a baby starts rolling over, especially in their sleep, from their back to their front, you should stop swaddling your baby and find other alternatives to help the baby sleep. Even if they’re showing signs that they will soon roll over but still haven’t mastered it, experts recommend transitioning. A swaddled baby that rolls over represents a higher risk for SIDS or asphyxiation.
- Fighting while being swaddled. If you’re finding it hard to swaddle your baby because they put up a fight, consider swaddle transition and find other alternatives.
- Breaking out of the swaddle blanket. If you get the baby snugly swaddled, and they get one or both arms free or even get out of the swaddle completely, it’s safe to say that it’s time for a tactical switch.
- Waking up more frequently. Let’s say you got your baby to sleep for longer periods with a swaddle, and suddenly, they’re regressing and waking up more frequently again. Maybe they have outgrown the swaddling stage, and it’s not working for them anymore.
- Decreased startle reflex. One of the main pros of swaddling your baby is that it helps prevent their startle reflex (also known as Moro reflex), but this tends to go always as the baby grows. So if the startle reflex decreases, there’s no need to continue swaddling the baby if that was the intended purpose.
Why should I transition out of a swaddle?
For swaddle safety reasons, if a baby is rolling over by themselves, they should be immediately transitioned from traditional swaddling altogether. It’s considered a risk if a baby can’t elevate their head by themselves to sleep on their stomach because it increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS.
Also, they could accidentally cover their faces with the loose blankets and suffocate, which can result in brain damage or death.
Other less morbid reasons, but not less important, are developmental. With time babies will become more mobile, and they’ll try to experiment with different things. If the baby’s arms are not free to move, they won’t be able to master some abilities like:
- Rolling over time and again.
- Raising their heads.
- Sustaining the position with their arms, among others.
Remember, most babies sometimes spontaneously want to try new things; maybe they woke up before you noticed them. They’re trying to do tummy time by themselves. If they’re swaddled, they won’t be able to do this.
How to transition out of a swaddle
A baby that’s been swaddled since birth may take some time to transition to sleep without it, so be patient and prepare for a bumpy ride, especially those first few nights. It may take a few nights to achieve results, so buckle up.
Here are a few tips on how we can accomplish swaddle transition.
Some parents decide to stop swaddling cold turkey by removing the swaddle and see how the baby reacts.
The results will largely depend on the baby’s personality; some will adapt right away, while others may cry, fuss and wake up constantly until they get used to not being swaddled and feeling snugly.
Remember, babies learn to self-soothe as they grow, and some take more time than others. They don’t control or even understand changes as well as older babies might. So if you choose this alternative, be patient and understand their process.
Partial swaddling your baby
This is a mid-point technique where the baby sleeps first without a swaddle blanket for about half or a third of the night. If the baby wakes up crying and fussy, you swaddle them for the rest of the night.
The idea is that you slowly stretch the times when the baby sleeps without the swaddle blanket each night until you remove the swaddle altogether, and the baby sleeps the entire night without this aid.
If you plan on trying this method, you need to do it before they start rolling over, so they get used to sleeping without the swaddle by the time they roll over by themselves. By the time they rollover, you must stop swaddling your baby for their safety.
One arm in, one arm out
You can gradually transition your baby by wrapping them in the swaddle and leaving one arm out while the other arm is tucked in. They will still feel secure and comfortable but will slowly get used to sleeping without the blanket.
The process is:
- First, wrap them with one arm out for a couple of nights.
- Have both arms out for a couple of nights.
- Remove the swaddle blanket completely.
Remember that, as with partial swaddling, you need to begin doing this before the baby rolls over as it takes time for them to get used. Give your baby plenty of time to get used to these changes.
These are also known as wearable blankets and are effective as a gradual method for transition swaddle. Many parents consider it the best transition swaddle, and children get more sleep with this method.
They come in different designs, with some featuring a weighted pad in the center to mimic the touch of a hand resting on their chest. They look like onesies with slightly longer openings for the legs and arms or like a quilted blanket.
A sleepsack swaddle provides comfort and security and also helps reduce startle reflex. However, since they’re thicker than regular pajamas, be careful your baby doesn’t overheat and if they have a fever, try other alternatives.
There are other sleep sacks that can be used for older babies and even toddlers that work as a wearable blanket, so the baby stays warm while sleeping without the risk loose blankets represent.
Another alternative for gradual transition is using a swaddle strap where you lay the baby in the middle and wrap each end of the strap around the baby’s chest, and the rest of the baby’s body remains free, including the baby’s legs.
This allows them to adjust to sleeping without the feeling of being snugly wrapped. There are straps designed to keep both arms in, and others allow to be used with an arm in, an arm out, or both arms free while they sleep with the swaddle strap.
What else should we know?
To successfully transition swaddled babies, you must apply the selected method during nighttime sleep and during nap time.
If you want to try the cold turkey method, start during nap time and see how it goes first. Chances are you are less tired and more prepared to respond positively to the baby’s reaction than you’ll be at nighttime when the whole family is exhausted.
The baby’s sleep environment heavily influences how the baby responds. Sleep aids include white noise from a sound machine, soft, soothing music, low lights, and a cozy environment during naps and bedtime. A calm baby may sleep longer and sleep soundly.
If they’re having trouble sleeping and seem fussy, try rocking them. This may not be the best self-soothe method, and it won’t make them learn to fall asleep on their own, but sometimes during the transition process, parents find this soothing for the baby and themselves.
Setting a sleep routine that includes a warm bath, less visual stimulation for your baby, and an overall soothing environment will do wonders not only when you want to stop swaddling but as a normal part of bringing up a baby. A well-set sleep routine will send cues to your baby’s brain that let them know that it’s time to rest and allow them to prepare themselves for sleep.
The ultimate goal is to get the baby to sleep safely and soundly and nighttime and for their naps. Consider swaddling as just a phase that soon your baby will overcome and outgrow, and soon it will all be over.